Posted by Annette on June 14, 2016
Want a pretty-much-free co-working space with bottomless coffee? Thanks be to Sweden, it's here for you.
I was one of two digital nomads, bombing across Europe--uncharacteristically, in an actual vehicle--from the tippy-top of Scotland all the way to the heart of Slovakia. Challenge: our SIM cards were only functional for practical purposes in the UK and at our final destination, but we weren't spending sufficient time in any intermediate country to bother getting connected there.
And we had deadlines. Looming deadlines. Wi-fi was hard to come by, as was a comfortable place to squeeze in a couple hours' work. Things were getting a little, um, stressful.
Then, suddenly, the blue-and-yellow bulk of an IKEA sign blocked out the sun for a moment as we were driving along.
"Why don't we just stop there?," my companion asked.
Oh my god, I thought. Why did I not think of that before?!
I've long been a breathless fan of clever IKEA hacking in the context of hacksaws and drill sets. After all, in a conceptual sense, lifestyle design is all about taking readily available, workhorse components and customizing them to suit your precise set of needs...but I'd never thought about what IKEA-hacking might mean for me as a fast-moving digital nomad. As it turns out: it's about as satisfying as finding yet another brilliant way to use that same damn coffee table, and it's a hell of a lot better than spending half of every day fighting with wonky hotel internet.
Evil, you say? Hold your horses a minute.
The necessity of IKEA underlines the differences between the needs of a tourist and the needs of someone who is making a living on the road. Should a tourist go from big-box store to big-box store to upload their Instagram selfies and check Facebook? I'll be the first to lob a hearty hell-no at that--but if you're a digital nomad, purism gets you in trouble. Fast. Your billables are the only thing standing between you and game-over, and you've got to make sure you have a reliable means to get 'em done.
In mom-and-pop venues, you might spend a disproportionate amount of your desperately needed working time to get parked, seated, plugged in, connected to the internet and served. At any given IKEA, that ain't the case. The WiFI works. The food is standard. When you walk in, you don't have to speak a word of the local language to navigate the space and get what you need.
At less than a Euro per coffee--and around a fiver for a satisfying lunch--you won't be spending the money you're making, even if you're a fresh-launched noob.
If you don't have mobile data and you don't have a local map, finding anything off the main roadway is a ballache. To find an IKEA, all you need to know is what highway it's next to and the very-general stretch of road it's on--the enormous signage does the rest. Whew.
You can almost always find a nice spot to spread out. The staff doesn't hover. The music isn't cranked up. This sets the IKEA solution apart somewhat from the other evil-overlord-with-free-Wifi standbys (McDonalds and Starbucks, of course).
In countries where everything closes after 5pm and on Sundays, this can be a lifesaver.
Of 370 IKEA stores in 47 countries, the highest concentration is in continental Europe. It looks like it could work in some places in the States, too, but I haven't tried it. Here's the official map:
One week and six IKEAs later, we had made it across eight countries with our sanity and client relationships intact.
I won't be in the mood to so much as smell another meatball for a while, but I'll happily wave a little Swedish flag in gratitude to the soulless corporate behemoth that facilitated those workdays.
Tack så mycket, IKEA. Tack så mycket.
IKEA Bratislava photo credit: Annette O'Neil